Intracellular accumulation of glycerol is essential for yeast cells to survive hyperosmotic stress. Upon hyperosmotic stress the gene expression of enzymes in the glycerol pathway is strongly induced. Recently, however, it was shown that this gene-expression response is not essential for survival of an osmotic shock [Mettetal JT et al. (2008) Science 319: 482-484 and Westfall PJ et al. (2008) Proc Natl Acad Sci 105: 12212-12217]. Instead, pure metabolic adaptation can rescue the yeast. The existence of two alternative mechanisms urged the question which of these mechanisms dominates time-dependent adaptation of wild-type yeast to osmotic stress under physiological conditions. The regulation of the glycerol pathway was analysed in aerobic, glucose-limited cultures upon addition of 1 M of sorbitol, leading to a hyperosmotic shock. In agreement with earlier studies, the mRNA levels of the glycerol-producing enzymes as well as their catalytic capacities increased. Qualitatively this induction followed a similar time course to the increase of the glycerol flux. However, a quantitative regulation analysis of the data revealed an initial regulation by metabolism alone. After only a few minutes gene expression came into play, but even after an hour, 80% of the increase in the glycerol flux was explained by metabolic changes in the cell, and 20% by induction of gene expression. This demonstrates that the novel metabolic mechanism is not just a secondary rescue mechanism, but the most important mechanism to regulate the glycerol flux under physiological conditions. © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.